The Mavericks had two bonafide stars in Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving this past season. Spencer Dinwiddie and Christian Wood starred in their roles but ultimately Irving and Doncic are the two I will focus on.
Despite a lackluster season from a team perspective, Dallas had the most star power it has ever had this past year. Luka Doncic by himself would have probably earned that sentiment, but adding Irving to that equation solidified it. Doncic averaged 32.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, and eight assists on 60.9 percent true shooting. Irving averaged 27 points, five rebounds, and six assists in 38 minutes a night for Dallas. In addition to being two of the most gifted playmakers, they were the highest-scoring duo in the NBA by nearly three points.
Doncic was sensational all season long. He entered the year for a third straight time as the betting favorite for MVP and played like it for the first five or so months. Part of the reason Dallas’ slow start was even more painful was because Doncic was playing at such an elite level. He rattled off nine 30-point games in a row to begin the season and topped that with a stretch of 267 points in six games (44.5 per game) from December 23rd to January 2nd. The question of when Doncic would score 50 points for the first time was answered in resounding fashion as he put 50 on the board 4 times, including a career-high 60.
The swing for Irving at the trade deadline was a risky one, given his shaky recent history. All things considered, it has been a success thus far and should continue to be beneficial should Irving re-sign as reported. Irving was electric in his time without Doncic on the floor and showed everyone why he is considered one of the best fourth-quarter scorers in the league. In fact, Irving led the league in fourth-quarter scoring (9.5 points per game) while Doncic led the league in scoring in the opening frame (11.2 points per game). He made Dallas’ offense comically good and provided the Mavericks with steadiness and explosiveness that they desperately needed.
So much has been made of the role players needing to step up, but not enough has been made of Dallas having the best backcourt in the NBA. Doncic and Irving together were unstoppable and did not even have the benefit of training camp to unlock all of their options together. The upcoming off-season will be big for Dallas’ future, but if Irving decides to stay they will have something not many teams can truly say that they have: limitless star power.
Straight A’s: Doncic’s 60-point miracle
As Miles McBride sank the second of two free throws to push the Knicks lead back to nine, the Mavericks would need an undeniable miracle in the final 33.2 seconds to turn a bad loss into an exceptional win. What transpired next was half-miracle, half-meltdown, and 100 percent magic:
Doncic finished the game with one of the most impressive stat lines in the history of the sport: 60 points, 21 rebounds, and 10 assists. His shot to tie the game will be on his career highlight reel and provided us with another iconic moment for his young, iconic career.
Failing Miserably: Doncic’s poor effort on defense
For a player as magical as Doncic to have such a steep decline in effort is troublesome. There could be a number of factors as to why Doncic’s defense was considerably worse this year. The team did not succeed the way he thought they would, he talked about off-the-court issues he was going through, and of course, the usage on offense could have caught up to him. Whatever the reason was, the effort Doncic showed on defense this season was miserable and unacceptable.
When he came into the league, the first thing I noticed was how much he dove on the floor and put himself in harm’s way to take a charge. It’s contagious when your best player does this, but the example he set in his first two years has all but dissipated. The complaining to the refs is at an all-time high and the moving of his feet is at an all-time low. Doncic is a top-three player in the NBA but winning happens on both ends. Nikola Jokic is not a great defender but he gets back and makes an effort on that end and now finds himself in his first NBA Finals. For the Mavericks to take the leap to serious contender, Doncic needs to find the effort he came into the league with and lose the attitude he has developed over the last three years.
Extra Credit: taking responsibility
It is rare that you get one superstar that will blame themselves first and be transparent about mistakes they made. Dallas has two who are that type of guy, which is nothing to take for granted. More often than not Irving and Doncic are “I need to be better” guys when it comes to basketball and that matters. It helps everyone get better when your best players take the blame off of everyone else.